Where are all the tomatoes?

We have spent the last 3 weeks in France. When we left the UK, there was a much publicised tomato shortage on supermarket shelves: not only tomatoes, but also other vegetables such as cucumbers, bagged lettuce, peppers, etc.

Before we left, salad (or lack of) was the main topic of discussion on social media. It made news headlines and frequently came up in day-to-day conversations.

Where were all the tomatoes? Why such a shortage? Was it due to Brexit? Bad weather? Politics? Virtually everyone had his or her own theory and explanation to offer.

Leaving the salad saga and all the speculation behind, we took our ferry to France for a well-deserved holiday.

Stopping by at a French supermarket

The great tomato shortage saga 1
Spanish and French tomato display in supermarket

As taking food into the EU has been prohibited since Brexit, the first thing we did on arriving at Saint-Malo was to pay a visit to the local Leclerc supermarket to buy a few necessities before making our way to our Brittany house: bread, milk, juice, fresh fruit, veg, etc.

We weren’t too sure what to expect. Would we be able to find everything we needed or was the vegetable shortage an issue that had also spread across Europe? We needn’t have worried. Shelves were fully stacked with beautiful looking, appetising, fruit and veg.

What was interesting, though, was the provenance of food items, in particular that of tomatoes. There were some that had been grown in France, obviously, but also quite a few originating from Spain. One of the theories doing the rounds in England before we left was that the tomato shortage was due to bad weather in Spain, which left us a bit confused. How come there were so many in our Leclerc store? Was France faring better than the UK with their fresh produce deliveries? As this is not a political blog or website, we won’t dwell on this issue. We are just grateful to have spent a few weeks in a country where fresh food is not only tasty and delicious, but also plentiful.

The French “Anti-inflation basket”

However, we also noticed that prices had shot up since our last visit to France: inflation, despite being quite a bit lower than in the UK, is still rife there, and people are struggling with necessities.

In actual fact, several of the main supermarket groups such as Système U, Carrefour, Intermarché and Monoprix have recently introduced what they call an “anti-inflation basket”, which includes everyday groceries and is aimed at the most “modest” households.

French groceries showing healthy nutriscore-jar of ratatouille-box of wholewheat French toast
Jar of ratatouille and Packet of wholewheat French toast with healthy nutriscore

Originally, this measure was meant to have been introduced by the French government, but eventually it was decided that it would be best to leave it up to the large retailers themselves to decide on which items to include in the basket: these items mostly include the shop’s own brand products. Naturally, they are quality products with a nutriscore of A or B, hygiene products and fresh products such as fruits and vegetables, meat or fish.

The French government is also planning to help out the more modest families, even though no official date has yet been announced. The French Economy minister announced recently that this food voucher (which will be in the form of a cheque: “the chèque alimentaire”) will be worth 65 euros and will soon be distributed to the lowest-income households.

Things aren’t that rosy

So, France certainly has tomatoes and other vegetables aplenty, but things aren’t quite as rosy as one would have expected. Prices are shooting up, inflation is on the up, people are struggling (and striking). As a British expat living in France, what are your views? Are you affected by the rising prices? Do you have a personal experience you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Editor’s Note

The “chèque alimentaire” is in addition to the “chèque carburant”, a 100 euro fuel allowance that only concerns the 10 million poorest workers who use their vehicle (car or two-wheeler) to go to work and which must be applied for.

A third type of financial help offered by the French government is the “chèque énergie”, once again not available to everyone but only to those households whose income is below a specific threshold.

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